‘The man is a disgrace to I.G.s. He’s a total disgrace…’
(Ben Sellers, Liberty Headlines) President Donald Trump’s Friday night dismissal of former Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson provoked a new wave of misleading claims and revisionism in the recent left-wing impeachment saga.
But the president’s critics predictably ignored the many ways in which Democrats bore responsibility for compromising the IG’s neutrality, leading Trump to lose his “fullest confidence” in Atkinson, as stated in his notification letter to the leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Liberal media like the New York Times reported on Atkinson’s firing in the most hyperbolic of terms, using words like “purge” and “massacre” to describe it.
“The president’s under-cover-of-darkness decision late the night before to fire Michael K. Atkinson … swept away one more official deemed insufficiently loyal as part of a larger purge that has already rid the administration of many key figures in the impeachment drama,” the Times claimed.
Politico noted in its reporting on the firing that there was precedent in former President Barack Obama’s 2009 firing of Gerald Walpin, the then-inspector general of the Corporation for National and Community Service, who at the time had been investigating one of Obama’s prominent supporters.
Nonetheless, Trump-bashers pounced on the move in their ongoing crusade to smear the president, suggesting that he should not be doing anything else but focusing on the coronavirus pandemic during its indefinite stranglehold on the country.
“Mr. Trump’s hunt for informers and turncoats proceeds even while most Americans are focused on the coronavirus outbreak that has killed thousands and shut down most of the country,” seethed the Times.
“The president’s determination to wipe out perceived treachery underscores his intense distrust of the government that he oversees at a time when he is relying on career public health and emergency management officials to help guide him through one of the most dangerous periods in modern American history,” the newspaper charged.
A Loss of Confidence
Contrary to the Times’ assertions, Atkinson’s dismissal may have been the least secretive thing related to his involvement in House Democrats’ recent impeachment effort.
Trump, himself, was characteristically candid about the reasons he no longer trusted Atkinson, whom he had appointed to the position in November 2017.
During a Saturday press conference, Trump said, “I thought he did a terrible job, absolutely terrible. He took a fake report and he brought it to Congress,” reported the Times.
Trump went on to rail over the impeachment process, which was initiated last August after presumed CIA whistleblower Eric Ciaramella, a widely acknowledged partisan who was working by special appointment in the White House, filed an IG complaint in consultation with Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the chair of the House Intelligence Committee.
Despite the fact that Atkinson’s boss, then-acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire, determined that the complaint did not meet the “urgent” criteria used to justify reporting to Congress, Atkinson took it upon himself to do so.
He first changed the whistleblower policies to allow Ciaramella to report second-hand information. He also allowed the so-called whistleblower to correct inaccuracies in his complaint and then circumvented Maguire, his boss, to deliver it to Schiff.
“The man is a disgrace to I.G.s,” Trump said Saturday. “He’s a total disgrace.”
Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz, who also has been caught in political crossfire over his investigations of FBI corruption and abuse in the related Russia collusion hoax, subsequently released a statement defending Atkinson’s integrity.
But the outpouring of support for Atkinson’s supposedly “by the book” handling of the Ukraine allegations against Trump ignored several ways that Atkinson’s reliance on his own discretionary judgment had undermined his apolitical posturing.
Deep State Ties
Like Ciaramella, who had a close friend hired by Schiff’s office around the same time that he filed the whistleblower complaint, Atkinson’s own conflicts of interest soon became apparent.
Among the unsavory links revealed was Atkinson’s stint working closely at the FBI with anti-Trump ‘resistance’ agent Kevin Clinesmith and others who were involved with the baseless Deep State conspiracies waged against Trump.
Underscoring their cozy rapport, Atkinson released his statement in response to Trump’s firing via Schiff, who tweeted it out with his own smear-attacks framing the dubious narrative.
A powerful message from Inspector Gen. Atkinson after his retaliatory firing:
“The American people deserve an honest and effective government. They are counting on you to use authorized channels to bravely speak up…
“Please do not allow recent events to silence your voices.” pic.twitter.com/J6lCRHDSeJ
— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) April 6, 2020
Atkinson attempted in the statement to justify overstepping his authority by ignoring Maguire and by extending his own oversight to the office of the presidency—which was not part of the intelligence community that he was tasked with monitoring under the 2010 Intelligence Authorization Act that established the office.
“As an Inspector General, I was legally obligated to ensure that whistleblowers had an effective and authorized means to disclose urgent matters involving classified information to the congressional intelligence committees, and that when they did blow the whistle in an authorized manner, their identities would be protected as a guard against reprisals,” Atkinson claimed.
“Inspectors General are able to fulfill their critical watchdog functions because, by law, they are supposed to be independent of both the Executive agencies they oversee and of Congress,” he continued. “Inspectors General are not involved in policymaking; they are not partisan.”
While noble sounding, Atkinson’s decision to insert himself into the middle of the partisan proceedings effectively belied his claims of neutrality.
Meanwhile, those same whistleblower protections he so vocally extolled may have resulted in his own undoing after he was complicit in helping partisan Democrats to weaponize them against the president.
During the secretive House investigative hearings, Schiff selectively leaked snippets from many of the impeachment witnesses in an effort to build his case with the public. Those whose testimony supported House Democrats’ efforts were later brought forth in public hearings.
However, Atkinson’s testimony was the only one that remains classified under lock and key—ostensibly to protect the identity of the so-called whistleblower, although Ciaramella’s name was widely reported and never disputed or denied.
That the IG’s role is inherently one of transparency, shedding light on government corruption, seemed to contradict the insistence that his own account of his politically impactful actions be kept shrouded in secrecy.
Watching the Watchdogs
While it is possible there was other, unreleased classified information in the whistleblower complaint that would have directly involved his office’s oversight of the intelligence community, Atkinson’s insistence that the sole reason for secrecy was to protect Ciaramella fails to explain why he would have involved himself in the first place unless partisan forces were at play.
He thanked Schumer effusively for supporting his Ukraine decision, and offered an apparent swipe at the Trump defenders who dared to question his judgment and impartiality as an independent government auditor.
“Those repeated assurances of support for whistleblowers in ordinary matters are rendered meaningless if whistleblowers actually come forward in good faith with information concerning an extraordinary matter and are allowed to be vilified, threatened, publicly ridiculed, or—perhaps even worse—utterly abandoned by fair weather whistleblower champions,” Atkinson wrote.
Even so, Atkinson failed to address the central objection waged by his detractors: that this particular whistleblower was acting in bad faith and that no accountability mechanism was thus in place for protecting a duly elected leader against his dishonest political adversaries.
Atkinson also hinted in the letter at the possibility of more collusion with Schumer to extend his IG purview to monitoring the White House, despite there being no legislative authority for him to do so.
At Schumer’s request, Atkinson reassured him that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which requires the full trust of the president during sensitive and confidential deliberations, would support further efforts to undermine Trump by using the anonymous whistleblower process to deliver dirt to his political opponents.
“[I]n your letter, you requested that I seek and provide to Congress written certification from the General Counsel of the ODNI that he will not permit retaliation or reprisals against anyone who has made, or in the future makes, protected disclosures of presidential misconduct to Congress or Inspectors General,” Atkinson wrote. “Pursuant to that request, I am providing a copy of your letter and this response to the Acting General Counsel for the ODNI.”